There are some things in life I could do without: clowns at birthday parties, men in Speedos, Fire by Electric Six, anything connected to Mary Kate and Ashley — What’s that? You’re surprised Electric Six, the Detroit City quintet, formerly known as the Wildbunch, that captured the music world’s attention with its first single “Danger! High Voltage,” is on the list? At first, so was I.
Having been magnetically drawn to, “Danger! High Voltage,” I assumed Electric Six’s debut LP would be an extension of that intoxicating dirty disco sound. But instead of being filled with silver stiletto and sweaty polyester images, Fire is like a trip to the Harley-Davidson Café, minus the bad food.
Electric Six, which prides itself on its tongue-in-cheek pomposity to inflate rock cliches, could have at least masked the unbearable songs with clever or witty titles. Instead, the alarm bells went off quickly as I read through the track listing, noticing song titles including “Naked Pictures (Of Your Mother),” “She’s White” and “Gay Bar.” I was expecting a barrel full of foot thumping and heart-throbbing songs, but the tunes were just as bad as their monikers. The songs rarely deviate from Electric Six’s formula of big-arena rock chords and shouted choruses. Whereas a disco beat is the propelling force behind “Danger! High Voltage,” it gets shoved around and buried in the rest of Fire. Even Dick Valentine’s vocals, pleasantly throaty on their own, get lost in the mess of horribly written lyrics and songs. By the end of the album, Valentine’s growl becomes quite dull. In fact, the whole album gets old quickly, as each song is just a minor permutation of the previous one.
But it’s not the sound so much as the lack of backbone that’s disappointing. Rooted below the fluff and funk of “Danger! High Voltage,” Electric Six reveals it has soul. Just as you’re lulled into the repetitive nature of the chorus, Valentine responds to the line “Danger! Danger! High Voltage/ When we touch/ When we kiss,” with the shatteringly lonely line, “Never!” Suddenly the song is no longer merely a dance-floor pleaser, but a reflection on the desire of love. No other song on this album is able to achieve this emotional complexity.
Maybe if Electric Six focused less on image and more on music, Fire could have turned out better. Everything from the band members’ names (Besides Valentine, the Rock and Roll Indian is on rhythm and lead guitar, Disco’s on bass, Surge Joebot’s on lead and rhythm guitar, and M is on drums) to their outfits (tailored vintage suits, of course) reveals that Electric Six has carefully thought out their image. Even the hype has been, in part, self-made, as the Jack White-sounding backing vocals on “Danger! High Voltage” have intentionally stirred up rumors. But without the music picking up where the image lets off, Electric Six flounders and fails on its first attempt. An unpleasantly large number of bands seem to survive on image alone; let’s hope that Electric Six rides its hogs-and-leather image into the sunset.